Lake Chelan Winery: A Look At Four Wines
April 4, 2011 by Doug Haugen
Lake Chelan is one of the largest lakes in the United States, spanning over fifty miles in length. Its banks are steep, and its waters are deep. So deep, in fact, that when I was a kid, camping along the shores of Lake Chelan, we told stories of how there were parts of the lake where scientists hadn’t yet discovered the bottom. There were campfire tales of a Chelan equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster named Ogopogo (told and retold by residents today), and ghost stories about a school bus chock-full of kids careening into the lake’s depths, never to be recovered, leaving a gang of ghastly schoolchildren to haunt the Lake Chelan shores.
The size of the lake is good for more than legend and ghost stories. It contributes to a micro-climate that led Chelan to become Washington’s eleventh AVA in 2009. The size of the lake keeps the water cold, and being at the base of the surrounding hills, it creates what they call the “lake effect,” effectively functioning as a heat sink drawing heat down the slopes and cooling things down. Lake Chelan is a chill-pill for more than just summer vacationers; it creates a longer growing season, mild temperatures and reduced risk of frost.
The first production vineyard in Chelan was planted by Bob Christopher and Steve Kludt in 1998, replacing acreage previously dedicated to apple orchards–a trend that continued in North Central Washington with the fall of the Washington apple market. In 2000, the Kludt Family became the first bonded winery in Chelan County, and the next year, they bottled their first wine from Lake Chelan Winery. There are now fifteen winery members in the Lake Chelan Wine Growers Association.
We recently took a look at four of the wines from Lake Chelan Winery. What we found was a body of wines that have full flavor, sturdy structure, and moderate alcohol levels that bring the fruit to the forefront to be examined and relished.
2006 Maximum III Meritage
Blend: 58% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11 % Syrah, 11% Cab Franc
202 cases produced
According to the winemaker’s notes, the Maximum III should be decanted half an hour before tasting to let the aromatics develop. We found this to be very true. At first, we were surprised by such a tight nose for a wine called “Maximum,” but it did open up after a while to reveal creamy aromas with raspberry, blackberry and vanilla. On the palate, the wine was rich and flavorful, fruit-forward and juicy. Toasted oak shows through, but doesn’t hide the dark, ripe fruit, and the whole package is wrapped up in a soft, velvety mouthfeel that I really like. A moderate alcohol level of 13.8% works well with the balanced acid and tannin structures. The wine is powerful to the finish, but the finish is surprisingly sudden, like a grand finale without a curtain call. For an encore, you’ve got to take another sip, which will be as rewarding as the first.
2009 Stormy Mountain White
Blend: Chardonnay, Riesling, Viognier, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris
400 cases produced
This white blend is a really fun wine to drink. A blend of five varietals, you can pick out each and every one, one at a time. You get the pear, peach and lemon from Chardonnay and Riesling. You get the apricot and orange blossom from the Viognier. You get the honeysuckle and a little spice from the Gewürztraminer and more apple and pear from the Pinot Gris. Like a fruit cocktail, you get a combined deliciousness, while still getting to savor each piece. Add some vanilla notes, and you’ve got yourself a summer snack in a glass. Round, lush and full-bodied, it goes down easy by itself, but would also pair really well with spicy Thai food or a garden salad with vinaigrette.
2009 Sweet Riesling
289 cases produced
The name says it all for the 2009 Sweet Riesling. You get all the typicity of Riesling with ripe peaches, pears and apricots, but with a viscous, full-bodied mouthfeel and a sweetness that hints at late harvest. In a time where dry and off-dry Rieslings are taking a prominent position in the market, this wine hearkens back to a style popular a couple of decades ago, but with more complexity and specificity of terroir, and a low alcohol level of 13% that allows the wine to sing its own melody.
2008 Ice Wine Chardonnay
105 cases produced
Let’s be honest. Ice wine is delicious. It just is. Sweet, viscous, fruity–it’s the wine equivalent of candy. And because of that, it can be a little difficult to differentiate one ice wine from another. How would you contrast Runts and Nerds? How would you contrast Bubbalicious and Bubble Yum? That being said, this Chardonnay Ice Wine is really exciting–it stands out from the crowd. Not just sweet and syrupy, it has fantastic acid structure that excites the palate. Chardonnay typicity shines with peaches, apricots and honeysuckle. The richness and viscosity of the ice wine brings the honeysuckle all the way to honey, but poured over ripe apple. The first sip makes you pucker, the last sip makes you smile with sweet content, and every sip in-between makes you long for another. Quite possibly the most exciting late harvest or ice wines I’ve had to date. WINO Approved.
Lake Chelan Winery has paved the way for a fast-developing wine region in Washington State. Be on the lookout for Chelan wines at your local wine shop from LCW and others. They’re quickly making a name for themselves, and while we didn’t taste any here, they may just prove that Washington is the next big frontier in Pinot Noir.